Saturday, June 23, 2007

Formula 1: Prost v Senna Part II

Can Hamilton and Alonso recreate the magic?

Hamilton and Alonso Image Courtesy:

As a kid I first started watching Formula 1 in 1988. That was the year when an up and coming driver called Ayrton Senna joined a more illustrious two time World Champion Alain Prost in the McLaren-Honda racing team. As they say, what happened from then on was history and magic. The rivalry between the two took Formula 1 to another level altogether.

For any sport to endure there has to be an inherent battle between equals. Intense rivalries among players and personalities become all the more alluring in any sport as it enhances the entertainment factor of the contest. We saw this happen during the Borg – McEnroe days or the Sampras-Agassi days in tennis. Every champion player need an equal to push his prowess to the limits and create matches which captures those everlasting moments of magic. Senna v Prost was one such rivalry.

Senna and Prost Image Courtesy:

The same magic has been missing from Formula 1 ever since Senna’s untimely demise and Prost’s retirement. Probably because Senna’s successor to the title of the greatest driver ever, Michael Schumacher, never really had a rivalry other than brief tussles with Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika H√§kkinen. But now Hamilton and Alonso has began to show sparks of recreating that magic. It would be a tall ask for them, but if they can achieve at least half of what Senna and Prost managed to dish out then this would be a season to remember.

Ayrton Senna Image Courtesy:

What should be noted though is the fact that in 1988 and 1989 McLaren was so dominant that they still managed to win the constructor’s championship even when their drivers were engaged in one of the fiercest and most bitter rivalries in the history of Formula 1. Their closest rivals were never even in contention to win anything unless both the McLarens retired from the race. It was the quality and rivalry between their drivers which made Formula 1 highly interesting during those days. Unlike the Ferrari domination in the early part of this millennium, it was always a two horse race in those days. McLaren’s policy of providing equal opportunity to both their drivers should be commended in this context.

Alain Prost Image Courtesy:

This season too we have had an up and coming driver called Lewis Hamilton joining the McLaren-Mercedes team along with a more accomplished two time world champion Fernando Alonso. Everybody including Alonso never seriously took Hamilton as contender to his throne. It was widely expected by everyone that the 22-year old rookie would bide his time and learn the nuances of the sport and play second fiddle to his more illustrious teammate. Everyone other than Hamilton, that is!!!

Fernando Alonso Image Courtesy:

The first sign that Hamilton does not consider himself to be rookie was seen during the Monaco Grand Prix this season. He did not hide his disappointment in being asked by the team boss (Ron Dennis) to ‘Cool It’ when he was in hot pursuit of the race leader Fernando Alonso. In his subsequent press conference he gave a not so subtle hint of his disappointment when he said that he considers himself to be the number-two driver in the team. By the end of the subsequent race at Canada however it was Alonso’s turn to be bitter (after coming in second to Hamilton) and say that Hamilton was being given preferential treatment by the team. However by winning the US grand prix last weekend Hamilton proved that he has the ability to perform consistently and mount a serious challenge to Alonso’s World Title. Not to forget that he is still in his first season and is racing in some of the circuits for the first time in his life. What he will have to prove though is his heart to overcome any adversity that will surely come in a long season like this.

Lewsi Hamilton Image Courtesy:

With Ferrari trying to play catch-up, this season looks like it is going to go in favor of the McLarens which could only intensify the rivalry. Ron Dennis is already on damage control mode by playing down talks of the rivalry stating that the drivers like each other. But he forgets that even Senna and Prost liked each other too. They just wanted to win at all costs. We know Alonso certainly does not like to lose and judging by the attitude shown by the rookie neither does Hamilton. If they can maintain this intensity till the business end of the season, then Formula 1 fans better buckle up their seat belts; this could be a very exciting season indeed.

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